The chairman of the country's best-known ex-gay ministry has been sacked over a public slip that has deeply embarrassed the "change" movement that maintains people can be set free from their homosexual past.

The board of Exodus North America (ENA) has voted out chairman John Paulk,a Focus on the Family leader who became the poster boy for ex-gay ministrieswhen he appeared on the cover of Newsweek magazine in 1998.

Paulk's removal follows his visit to a gay bar while on a business trip toWashington, D.C., last month. He initially said that he had not known theplace catered to gays and was looking for a restroom, but later admittedthat he had known what Mr. P's was when he went in.

Gay media reports quoted eyewitnesses saying Paulk spent 40 minutes in thebar socializing with a number of men, including "speaking intimately withone man." He told one man he was gay, and left hurriedly when someone whorecognized him started taking photographs, they added.

ENA director Bob Davies said that Paulk had told the board he had "nosinful intentions" in going into the bar. "However, he did engage inbehavior which has negatively impacted the credibility of Exodus. He wasguilty of a serious lapse of judgment, and we feel that his behaviorwarrants some type of disciplinary action."

Although removed as chairman, Paulk has been retained as an ENA boardmember on probation. That status will be reviewed after three months, duringwhich time he has to follow guidelines intended to give "appropriateaccountability and support as he moves through a period of restoration."

After years as a homosexual activist, Paulk left the gay scene afterbecoming a Christian. Through ENA he met and married a former lesbian. Theynow have two children, and their dramatic story was featured in theNewsweek cover story on the ex-gay movement. Paulk is manager of Focus'homosexuality and gender division, and a speaker at the ministry's Love WonOut conferences that address teens and homosexuality.

In a July letter to Focus supporters, Paulk wrote about his passion for"those who are still trapped in the sordid world we left," and how pro-gaygroups were trying to silence the "message of hope" that people could turnfrom homosexuality.

Davies said that it was "very unfortunate" that Paulk had initially been"so fearful that he hid the truth" about his visit to Mr. P's. "He told melater that he was more ashamed of how he handled that than his initialdecision to enter the bar." But "[his] unwillingness to tell the truth fromthe beginning was most unfortunate, as it has further undermined his publiccredibility."

In a letter to ENA leaders, Davies said that Paulk had demonstrated"genuine remorse" and was deeply committed to his family, and to seekinggodly counsel to analyze "what brought him to this point." ENA's actionswere intended to balance "compassion and justice."

Tom Minnery, vice president of Focus on the Family's public policydivision, said today that he supported ENA's actions. He said that he was"not at liberty to discuss what disciplinary actions [Focus] has taken," butexpected Paulk to "eventually" resume his role in future Love Won Outevents.